All entries for Wednesday 07 June 2006

June 07, 2006

Writing about web page is a new site for hosting digital photos. It's owned by cNet (who are a pretty big web presence) and it's part of their WebShots online services. It's interesting for a few reasons:–

  1. It's free.
  2. There's no disk space restrictions at all. Upload a million photos, if you have 'em.
  3. There are no bandwidth restrictions. Upload the world's most popular picture, link to it from your blog and they'll serve it a million times without charging you anything.

Is there a catch? Not really; the only downside is that there's no attempt made to organise your files or to allow you to manage them collectively. Your files are always publically visible, and each image you upload gives you back a long alpha–numeric URL which you have to copy to your clipboard to use on your blog (or wherever). Your image URLs don't have anything in common with each other, so each new upload is effectively unrelated to all your previous uploads. (Though presumably some enterprising third party could write a little app whose job was to do the uploads for you and keep a database of all your URLs so that you could then treat your files like a collection.)

What it suggests to me, though, is that for big companies, bandwidth and disk space are now effectively free – they're not, by themselves, worth charging for. What you charge for now is the value–add you can put on top of the bandwidth and disk space. Maybe that's security, or collection management, or sharing. But it has to be something.

(As an aside, I wonder if you could use AllYouCanUpload as a de facto backup system by creating a huge and well encrypted file that contained everything you wanted to back up, then giving it a JPG extension and uploading it?)

More laptops in lectures

Follow-up to Laptops in lectures from Autology: John Dale's blog

A month ago, I wrote about the use of laptops in lectures, prompted by reports of American academics who have decided to ban them. I wondered whether the problem was really the laptop, or the internet access that often goes along with it, and I've been interested to read that some US institutions are giving lecturers the ability to disable internet access in the lecture theatre if they wish.

Since then there's been more debate on the subject, including an article in the Times Higher from June 2nd which rather disconcertingly quoted my previous blog entry. It's an odd sensation to see yourself quoted in print when you aren't expecting it. But much more entertainingly, they also reported that:–

New students at the Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California are told of the perils of digital distraction. Earlier this year, the campus installed a parabolic mirror at the back of a new classroom and plans to put in more. The mirror allows lecturers to keep tabs on students, but "it also makes the subtle statement that [lecturers] can see who's on email", says John Clarke, assistant dean and chief information officer.

I'm not sure why, but I find that faintly comic. If you don't want students to use laptops, you could ask them not to, or you could disable internet access if you're worried about web browsing (as the University of Virginia has done). But a giant mirror? What do lecturers do, call out people if they spot web sites they don't like? "You, near the back, reading the Onion: Out!".

In studies cited in the article, though, the problem does seem to be a real one: students allowed the use of laptops in a test group performed significantly less well in retention tests than students who weren't.

But not everyone sees the problem the same way: I was also struck by these quotes in the Chronicle of Higher Education (the US version of the THES) where this topic has been discussed on their forums:–

I figure it is my job to make what I do in the classroom more interesting and more pressing to the students than their friends' MySpace profiles. I tell students that laptops are fine for taking notes. Also that if they open a laptop, I am going to call on them, repeatedly, to summarize something I just said. This method works and is not very hard. And yet here we have people wishing for a mechanical control to make up for their not running their classroom sensibly?
Many of us are crackerjack lecturers— and that's what my ratings say, too. But the web, IM, and e–mail are like visual heroin — best left out of lecture.

And best of all:–

I make my students strip down to their skivvies before they enter my classroom. Inside, they have to take notes with lumps of charcoal on flat rocks (though in upper level classes I allow home made quill pens and birch bark). We speak to another in Old English. I mean, why should I have to change my pedagogy to keep up with information technology? What do you think I am, someone in the information business? Traditions so sacred as ours are not to be questioned.

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